By Segun James
There over 25 million Nigerians who suffer from one physical deformity or the other, with over 3.5million of them having difficult challenges of moving around.
This was disclosed by the National Coordinator of the Association of Indigenous People with Disabilities (AIPD), Dr. Joseph Ify Chikunie, who lamented that another problem was that government had no programme or special provision for them.
Chikunie, a lecturer at the University of Lagos and himself physically challenged, cried out that people with disability needed the protection of government to promote equal opportunities for all people.
He insisted that the physically changed who make up over 30 per cent of the nation’s population must be engaged and trained for worthy causes instead of being encouraged to be beggars on the streets of the nation.
He agreed that “the greatest challenge is impediment in mobility; such people could be trained for worthy causes that will suit their kind of deformity.”
Chikunie who battled deformity to train himself up to PhD level at the University of Lagos where he now teaches Philosophy wondered why government and corporate bodies did not factor in the fact that not everybody was able bodied when designing their programmes and projects.
“For instance, I watched emotionally a young woman, who has money in the bank but could not withdraw from the ATM machine. This woman actually sits on a wheelchair and if you see the way the ATM is designed, it is a bit high for someone who is on a wheel chair. So, she tried to withdraw her money with her card but fell over as she was stretching; she kept trying but she did not succeed. Now, if that hole has been lowered, she would have been able to withdraw her money effortlessly.
“This is just an instance. You see very high buildings with no elevators. For instance, I was in the University of Lagos for four years and that time, the elevator at the Faculty of Arts was not functioning and I remember I had to walk the four floors because most of our classes held in the fourth floor. So, I walk up the staircase almost every day.
“There are still some tall buildings in this country without elevators and the people who are physically challenged must gain access to do one or two things that are important to them. So, these are some areas that the government and corporate bodies should think about. They should know that not everybody has functional parts of the body. If they begin to look into that, I think we will begin to address some of the challenges that we face.”
In order to bring the federal government in particular into this awareness, Chikunie has articulated a nine point agenda “that once we are able to implement, I think life will be rosy for people who live with disabilities.
“Some of these include employment. The moment a physically challenged person leaves the university, there should be a job waiting for him or her because there is discrimination going on in the employment market. The government has not even taken care of every able bodied person not to talk of the disabled.
“You talk about skill acquisition programmes, we are going to organise skill acquisition programmes from next semester in UNILAG for the physically challenged. They are going to learn how to repair electronics, how to make bags, shoes so that they can be useful to themselves and generate revenue even while they are students. That someone is physically challenged does not mean that he or she cannot work. By the time those who are undergraduates work while as students, the employers will know that there is ability in disability and they will readily employ them.”
On dealing with physically challenged persons on the streets, Chikunie said that for such people, “they should actually be taken to a centre. The Association of Indigenous People with Disabilities, will in due course, provide over 1000 wheelchairs to people who are in dire need of them. They should be taken to a centre where they can put their brain to use.
“We want to be provided with the opportunity so that we can work hard to earn a living. That is why we say we want to be empowered to live independently. We could have care givers but for a very long time, I have been the breadwinner in my family and I have seen my siblings through school. Imagine if that opportunity was not there, if I was not really fortunate to have an uncle who understands what education can do in the life of a physically challenged, I would have been on the streets as well begging.
“So, people like that should be taken off the streets, they should be taken to a place where you have computers, where they can be empowered and teach them different vocations and you will be amazed at what these people can do.”